By David Feigen / August 1, 2023
The Texas Legislature recently finished its first session since the launch of the Texas School Readiness Dashboard, providing an opportunity for legislators to take action on the Dashboard’s policy recommendations. In late 2022, Texans Care for Children and partners launched the Dashboard to offer a more holistic view of how well Texas is supporting, preparing, and putting children on a path toward school readiness and later success in school and life. The Dashboard includes the latest available data on key indicators of school readiness as well as policy recommendations to accelerate the state’s progress on these indicators.
While the current Dashboard provides state-level data, we’re excited to add community-level data to the Dashboard later this year to help identify communities in greater need of resources and attention for Texas to meet its overall school readiness goals. We will also update the state-level data for each indicator if available.
Going into the 2023 legislative session, the Dashboard shed light on major challenges that urgently require policymaker attention. We and many others leveraged the Dashboard to advance meaningful policy changes that would improve maternal and child health and support families’ financial security. Principally, we’re pleased the Legislature extended postpartum health coverage, took key efforts to reduce entry into foster care, and, with leadership from groups like Feeding Texas, reduced barriers to evidence-based services like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, progress on early childhood education, children’s health coverage, and other recommendations was minimal. Although the Legislature fell short in many areas, lawmakers can build upon the positive steps they took to ensure all Texas children have the support they need to be school ready.
This summary highlights how the Legislature did in addressing the four major indicators of school readiness: good health and development, enriching early learning experiences, positive adult-child interactions, and sufficient household resources.
We’re grateful to the Meadows Foundation, Episcopal Health Foundation, Texas Pioneer Foundation, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, and the Alliance for Early Success for their support of the Dashboard.
Research shows that children who are born healthy and have access to reliable, consistent, and timely health services are more likely to be school ready.
The Texas School Readiness Dashboard includes a number of policy recommendations to strengthen good health and development of infants, toddlers, and young children, centered on improving enrollment of eligible children in health coverage, expanding access to care in schools and other community settings, improving access to high-quality health care for mothers before, during, and after pregnancy, and strengthening Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays.
After Texas advocates and lawmakers spent three legislative sessions pushing to extend mothers’ Medicaid coverage to 12 months after pregnancy, the Legislature finally passed this critical bill during the 2023 session. To support children’s healthy development, legislators also successfully boosted Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) funding for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays. Both 12-month postpartum health coverage and improved ECI funding were key recommendations from the Texas School Readiness Dashboard. Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to pass legislation this session to reduce the state’s uninsured rate for children, which is the highest in the nation, or help students better access health care.
Decades of research demonstrate that young children with enriching early learning and caregiving experiences are more likely to have the academic and social skills they need to be well-prepared for kindergarten. Early learning experiences build upon one another– when young children miss out on enriching early learning experiences, they may be less likely to succeed in kindergarten and meet later school benchmarks.
The Texas School Readiness Dashboard includes a number of policy recommendations to strengthen enriching early learning experiences for infants, toddlers, and young children, centered on strengthening classroom quality and improving teacher-child interactions; improving access to quality child care, especially for infants and toddlers; and bolstering the early childhood workforce.
Despite a few modest steps forward, the Texas Legislature did very little this session to address children’s early learning needs. The session stands in stark contrast to the progress lawmakers made during the 2021 session to support child care as well as emergent bilingual students and progress during the 2019 session to support full-day pre-k, early literacy, and overall funding for schools.
As a young child learns language and motor skills – such as learning to walk, eat solid foods, and say new words or phrases – the child is also building relationships with parents and siblings, experiencing new emotions, and using their senses to understand the world around them. Over time, research shows these brain connections built through everyday experiences help a child move, speak, and think in more complex ways, developing higher-level abilities like motivation, self-regulation, problem-solving, and communication needed to be a successful adult.
The Texas School Readiness Dashboard includes a number of policy recommendations to expand positive adult-child interactions for infants, toddlers, and young children. These recommendations centered on improving access to evidence-based home visiting programs that serve families on a voluntary basis; improving access to mental health care for parents and children, substance use services, and parent skill-building supports; and promoting initiatives proven to encourage positive adult-child interactions and daily reading.
This session, the Legislature made significant progress in expanding access to mental health services for adults and older youth and helping keep kids out of foster care. However, important work supporting parents was limited.
Families who lack sufficient household resources are more likely to face difficulties meeting basic needs like adequate shelter, nutrition, and healthcare. They may also be at greater risk of experiencing toxic stress, impacting parents’ ability to provide the nurturing relationships needed for healthy development. In Texas, far too many children and families struggle to meet their basic needs, whether that be housing, food, or basic medical care.
The Texas School Readiness Dashboard includes a number of policy recommendations to ensure more Texas children have sufficient household resources, centered on ensuring eligible families can enroll in safety-net programs, including SNAP, WIC, and TANF, and improving access to benefits and helping families earn and save enough money to address their young children’s basic needs.
Although sweeping reforms to benefits like family leave and increases to the minimum wage did not get traction this session, there were some positive incremental steps taken to modernize public benefits that better support the economic needs of working families.
To meet the School Readiness Dashboard’s vision of a Texas in which all children arrive on the first day of kindergarten ready to thrive, the Legislature will need to have bigger conversations, promote bolder solutions, and recommit themselves to supporting young children and their families in the short and longer term. It will require loud and determined community voices to help lawmakers further advance the many important policies that support school readiness. For example, in the next legislative session, policymakers will need to confront enduring and worsening issues like expanding access to high-quality, affordable child care, breaking down barriers to children’s health coverage, and systematically addressing child poverty. We look forward to working with Texans across the state and lawmakers to address these important issues and track additional progress over time.